How does the University of Michigan generate power?
Have you ever wondered how the University of Michigan generates power to keep the lights on after hours? The University obtains power through on-campus manufacturing and local utility providers such as DTE and Consumers Energy. However, this process is undergoing changes as the University moves towards carbon neutrality by 2050.
To achieve this, the University has set several goals. The University divides its emissions into three main categories – Scope 1, which includes emissions from power generated on campus; Scope 2, which includes emissions from purchased electricity; and Scope 3, which includes indirect emissions from University-sponsored activities such as commuting. Based on the University’s carbon neutrality plan, the University aims to eliminate Scope 3 emissions and offset Scope 2 emissions by 2025, and eliminate Scope 1 emissions by 2040 to reach complete carbon neutrality by 2050.
Yet the question remains: How can the University achieve these goals? Here’s a look at how electricity is used on the Ann Arbor campus. The Flint and Dearborn campuses follow similar climate goals but are not included in this article.
How power is now generated
The University currently gets about 60% of its electricity from purchased sources, while the other 40% comes from on-campus generation, according to Drew Horning, special advisor to the president for carbon neutrality and managing director for Graham Sustainability Institute, in an interview with The Michigan Daily. Most of the electricity generated on campus comes from the Central Power Plant (CPP), which is located next to the Hill Neighborhood.
While walking through the CPP location, plant manager Malcolm Bambling spoke to The Daily about the plant’s focus on reliability and said the University generating its own power ensures that they are not completely dependent on privately owned utilities. utilities. Bambling also described the network of underground tunnels throughout the campus used to transport electricity, steam and hot water. Burying the cables, Bambling explained, helps protect from the elements and is therefore more reliable.
In January, the University completed the expansion of the CPP, adding a 15-megawatt turbine and replacing the transformers to include a new ring design, which allows electricity to remain available even when a transformer is down. fail.
Horning said that even though the expansion was in the works before the University set carbon neutrality goals, the upgrade will still help reduce carbon emissions in line with their goals.
“Relative to the grid mix, (the CPP) is cleaner,” Horning said. “This is a combined heat and power plant… the waste heat of a combined heat and power plant is removed and transferred in steam tunnels to buildings throughout the campus. That is the rationale to improve the efficiency of our energy system, but there is also a lot around the stability of the energy system that supports the medical business as much when the electricity goes off the grid.
UM alum Zackariah Farah, spokesperson for Ann Arbor for Public Power, said he views the expansion as a short-sighted project that doesn’t listen to feedback from the community.
“They shouldn’t have invested what I believe to be over $80 million to expand a methane-powered power plant,” Farah said. “They didn’t meet with the environmental students who were concerned about it, they went ahead and said, ‘Well, technically, this will reduce emissions because we’ll reduce our dependence on DTE.'”
CPP currently relies on natural gas, a fossil fuel, to generate electricity and uses a combined cycle process, which greatly increases efficiency compared to a simple steam generator. By increasing power efficiency, Horning said the University can continue to operate the plant for a longer period of time while lowering carbon dioxide emissions per kilowatt hour.
The rest of the power used by the University is derived from external sources. Currently, all North Campus electricity, except for a portion of the North Campus Research Complex (NCRC), is purchased from DTE. The Central Campus is partially powered by the Central Power Plant and partially powered by procured electricity.
Currently, the University’s purchased electricity comes from a mix of renewable and nonrenewable sources. The DTE energy mix consists of about 9.58% renewable sources, such as wind and solar power. In 2021, the University announced that it will obtain 200 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually from wind farms managed by DTE, reducing annual carbon dioxide emissions by more than 100,000 metric tons. In 2022, the University emits about 228,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide in purchased electricity.
The University also plans to reduce its transportation fleet as a step towards reducing its Scope 3 emissions. Logistics, Transportation and Parking purchased four electric buses to be rolled out in 2023.
How to create power in the future
To achieve its primary goal of carbon neutrality by offsetting Scope 2 emissions by 2025, the University has issued a request for proposal (RFP) that will prioritize reliance on entirely renewable sources of energy. 2025. According to the RFP, the Ann Arbor campus needs 125 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year.
The University’s carbon emissions are measured through renewable energy credits (REC). Each REC is equivalent to one megawatt hour of electricity. According to an email from Horning, the University will acquire 150,000 RECs by 2022.
According to the RFP, the University estimates that they will need 159,500,000 kilowatt hours per year to meet their annual electricity needs using solar or wind power. In the state of Michigan, solar energy requires fewer kilowatt hours of electricity per year because Michigan has fewer hours of sunlight per day than locations closer to the equator. That said, compared to warmer climates, Michigan has a lower average temperature – where semiconductors, like solar panels, are more efficient.
While solar in general is not as efficient in Michigan as it is in sunnier climates, the University plans to expand solar photovoltaic systems across campus in an RFP to be released later this year.
Engineering senior Brendan Ireland, president of the Sierra Club, said he wants the University to include more solar power in new construction.
“I think the University should build solar panels everywhere,” Ireland said. “They should build things like solar panels in parking lots or solar panels on all their roofs.”
Another main source of power described in the RFP is wind power. The state of Michigan has a wide coastline that provides ideal conditions for wind energy, which the University is using to build a wind farm in 2021.
The University itself has a separate contract with DTE, which was obtained by The Daily. The agreement mandates that at least 40% of campus electricity be purchased from DTE with a capped rate of electricity generated per kilowatt hour. The agreement allows the University to determine the amount of electricity that comes from renewables.
Ireland says direct power is distributed throughout the power grid, and therefore cannot be allocated to specific buildings on campus.
“(There are) renewable energy credits that you can buy and sell in the market, which are taken away,” Ireland said. “It’s not (directly), ‘You’re buying power generated from this solar panel, located here.’ There is power generated, and it filters, and then you take these credits.
CPP also uses a combustion turbine, which can run on different types of gas to generate electricity, including fuel oil and hydrogen. Hydrogen gas can be burned while there are no carbon emissions and there is little risk during heating.
The University also retrofitted the heating and cooling systems in the Leinweber Computer Science and Information Building to clean energy, the building’s remaining energy sources still come from fossil fuels. The building will be heated and cooled using a geo-exchange system, which will reduce the need for electricity for heating and cooling – similar to the steam tunnels throughout Central Campus. According to the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, 55% of the energy used in a home goes to heating and cooling. A similar geo-exchange system will be built in a new North Campus residence hall.
Earlier this year, the University announced $300 million going toward green bonds — funds dedicated to “green” capital projects — such as the Leinweber Computer Science and Information Building.
The University has committed to building more geo-exchange sites on North Campus in the future as part of its North Campus Utility Master Plan. According to Horning, the University plans to implement geo-exchange systems on the Central Campus in the future but currently faces issues of land availability and the complexity of converting existing buildings.
“Geo-exchange plays a role in our decarbonization strategy for Central Campus, and we also monitor the feasibility of developing technologies,” Horning wrote to The Daily. “Ultimately, we hope our approach will serve as a road map for other institutions with similar challenges.”
Daily Staff Reporter Matthew Shanbom can be reached at email@example.com.